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Helsinki Commission Demands Answers on Failure of USAGM to Renew J-1 Visas for Voice of America Journalists

Thursday, September 03, 2020

WASHINGTON—In a letter to U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) CEO Michael Pack released today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), and Helsinki Commissioners Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33) demanded that the organization provide a detailed explanation for its failure to renew J-1 visas for many foreign Voice of America (VOA) journalists.

The letter reads in part:

“Many of these individuals and their families will be forced to return to countries, including China and Russia, where journalists are regularly targeted and silenced for their reporting. For journalists who have carried out the VOA mission of ‘producing accurate, balanced and comprehensive reporting, programming, online and social media content for a global audience, particularly to those who are denied access to open and free media,’ the personal risk may be even greater…

“Congress still has not been informed about the specifics of USAGM’s new policy and for what reason the routine J-1 visa renewal process for these individuals has been stalled. We request a briefing on this policy within the next 30 days. Additionally, we ask that you put into place a policy outlining USAGM’s steps to protect the personal security of VOA journalists working under its auspices."

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Mr. Pack,

We write to express our deep concern regarding J-1 visa renewals for foreign Voice of America (VOA) journalists. Failure to renew their visas has resulted in urgent departures from the United States for these journalists back to their countries of origin. As a result, many of these individuals and their families will be forced to return to countries, including China and Russia, where journalists are regularly targeted and silenced for their reporting. For journalists who have carried out the VOA mission of “producing accurate, balanced and comprehensive reporting, programming, online and social media content for a global audience, particularly to those who are denied access to open and free media,” the personal risk may be even greater.

It further is concerning that these VOA reporters were not informed directly of this change to USAGM policy or given any notice on the renewal status of their J-1 visas. These journalists have worked tirelessly to serve freedom-loving people worldwide—even in some cases risking the distrust of their own governments—and should be treated with basic decency and dignity by USAGM leadership. Instead, they face fear and uncertainty regarding their own livelihoods and the future of their families.

The journalists in question do the important work of providing unbiased news and information to the most closed-off corners of the world. They play a pivotal role at Voice of America because of their critical language skills and connections within the countries they cover.

We urge you to answer questions from the Congress on this matter immediately. The Congress still has not been informed about the specifics of USAGM’s new policy and for what reason the routine J-1 visa renewal process for these individuals has been stalled. We request a briefing on this policy within the next 30 days. Additionally, we ask that you put into place a policy outlining USAGM’s steps to protect the personal security of VOA journalists working under its auspices.

Sincerely,

 

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant issues: 
Relevant countries: 
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In 1997, war-weariness and a military stalemate led the disputants to a peace accord and a power-sharing agreement. But though the arrangement had promise, it now seems to be falling apart, as opposition contenders for the presidency have been excluded from the race and the major opposition organization has decided to suspend participation in the work of the National Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Speaker, along with large-scale ethnic conflicts like Kosovo or Bosnia, and unresolved low-level conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, I believe the systemic flouting of OSCE commitments on democratization and human rights in Central Asia is the single greatest problem facing the OSCE. For that reason, I am introducing this resolution expressing concern about the general trends in the region, to show Central Asian presidents that we are not taken in by their facade, and to encourage the disheartened people of Central Asia that the United States stands for democracy. The resolution calls on Central Asian countries to come into compliance with OSCE commitments on democracy and human rights , and encourages the Administration to raise with other OSCE states the implications for OSCE participation of countries that engage in gross and uncorrected violation of freely accepted commitments on human rights . Mr. Speaker, I hope my colleagues will join me, Mr. Hoyer, and Mr. Forbes in this effort and we welcome their support.

  • Report on Georgia's Parliamentary Elections: October 1999

    On October 31, 1999, Georgia held its third parliamentary election since gaining independence in 1991. President Eduard Shevardnadze’s ruling party, the Citizens Union of Georgia, scored a convincing victory. According to the Central Election Commission, in the first round, the CUG won 41.85 percent of the party list voting, or 85 seats, along with 35 single districts. The opposition Batumi Alliance, led by Ajarian strongman Aslan Abashidze, came in second, with 25.65 percent of the vote and seven districts, gaining 51 seats. Industry Will Save Georgia was the only other party to break the sevenpercent threshold for parliamentary representation, managing 7.8 percent and 14 seats. In second-round voting on November 14, the CUG increased its lead, picking up ten more seats, and then won another two in a November 28 third round, for a total of 132. The Batumi Alliance’s final tally was 59. Overall, the CUG has an absolute majority in Georgia’s 235-seat legislature, improving on the position it held from 1995-1999. The outcome did not indicate how tense the race had been between the CUG and the leftist, proRussian Batumi Alliance. A win by the latter threatened to move Georgia into Russia’s orbit and away from market reforms. The election also offered a foretaste of next year’s presidential contest, when Abashidze runs against Shevardnazde. With such high stakes and relations so confrontational between the contending forces, charges of widespread fraud dogged the elections. Of the Central Election Commission’s 19 members, only 13 signed the document announcing the results. Nevertheless, OSCE’s observation mission called the first round of the election a “step towards” compliance with OSCE commitments, adding that most of the worst violations occurred in Ajaria. OSCE’s verdict after the November 14 second round was more critical, noting violence at some polling stations and vote rigging and intimidation at others. OSCE’s initial cautiously positive judgement, however, allowed Eduard Shevardnadze to claim that democratization is proceeding in Georgia and that the country’s admission to the Council of Europe was well deserved.

  • Uzbekistan's Litany of Violations

    Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I rise today to highlight the persecution of religious believers in Uzbekistan. The problem is worsening by the day, as the crackdown continues under the guise of “anti-terrorism.” While there is some justifiable threat of terrorism, the widespread violations of rule of law and human rights perpetrated by authorities are not defensible, especially in light of Uzbekistan's OSCE commitments. Under President Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan has been the second most repressive former Soviet republic, next to Turkmenistan. Karimov has used new constitutions and referendums extending his tenure to remain in office, where he seems determined to stay indefinitely. In mid-1992, he cracked down on all opposition parties, driving them underground or into exile, and all opposition or independent media were eliminated. In Uzbekistan today, human rights are systemically violated. Arbitrary arrests, abuse and torture of detainees are pervasive, and flagrantly politicized judicial proceedings are routine. According to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Watch, there are well over 200 individuals who are prisoners of conscience either for their religious or political activities. Defendants have been convicted of criminal offenses based on forced confessions and planted evidence. The regime has also refused to register independent human rights monitoring organizations (the Human Rights Society and the Independent Human Rights Society), while groups which cooperate closely with the government (Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Individual) have been registered without delay. On June 25, Uzbek police savagely beat Mikhail Ardzinov, one of the country's most prominent human rights activists. A key component of Uzbekistan's assault on human rights has been a thorough campaign against religious believers. Since 1997, hundreds of independent Muslim activists and believers associated with them have been arrested. In February of this year, bombs exploded in the capital, Tashkent, which killed sixteen bystanders and damaged government buildings, narrowly missing President Karimov and government officials. Karimov accused Muslim activists of having carried out a terrorist attack intended to assassinate him. The harassment and detention of Muslim activists has greatly intensified since then and an ongoing series of show trials had discredit them as dangerous religious extremists. Last month, six people were sentenced to death and another 16 received prison terms ranging from eight to 20 years in a trial that by no means met Western standards for due process. Since then, two arrested Muslims have died in prison, and there is no sign of a let up. President Karimov has argued that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia's most populous and traditional state necessitates a hard line, especially because Islamic radicals from neighboring Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan are determined to subvert Uzbekistan's secular, developing democracy. But the state's repressive policies are radicalizing Muslims and turning them against the regime. Non-Muslims faiths, particularly Christians, have also been subjected to harassment, imprisonment and violations of their religious liberty, especially those who share their faith and are actively meeting. According to Compass Direct, Ibrahim Yusupov, the leader of a Pentecostal church in Tashkent, was tried and sentenced last month to one year in prison on charges of conducting missionary activity. Another court in June sentenced Christian pastor Na'il Asanov to five years in prison on charges of possession of drugs and spreading extremist ideas. As with other cases mentioned below, witnesses attest that police planted a packet of drugs on Pastor Asanov and also severely beat him while he was in detention. Also in June, three members of the Full Gospel Church in Nukus were sentenced to long prison sentences. Pastor Rashid Turibayev received a 15-year sentence, while Parhad Yangibayev and Issed Tanishiev received 10-year sentences for “deceiving ordinary people” as well as possessing and using drugs. Their appeal was denied on July 13. Reports indicate that they have suffered severe beatings in prison, have been denied food and medical attention, and their personal possessions have been confiscated by the police, leaving their families destitute. Recently, the most senior Pentecostal leader in Uzbekistan, Bishop Leonty Lulkin, and two other church members were tried and sentenced on charges of illegally meeting. The sentence they received was a massive fine of 100 times the minimum monthly wage. The leaders of Baptist churches, Korean churches, the Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as many others, have also been subjected to harsh legal penalties. Although they have filed for registration, local authorities refused to sign their documents. Mr. Speaker, the State Department's report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 reported that the Uzbekistan law on religion “limits freedom of religion” with strict registration requirements which make it virtually impossible for smaller church organizations to gain legal status. The law passed in June 1998, “prohibits proselytizing, bans religious subjects in school curriculums, prohibits teaching of religious principles, forbids the wearing of religious clothing in public by anyone except clerics, and requires all religious groups and congregations to register or re-register.” Also approved last May was a second law establishing the penalties if one were convicted of violating any of the statutes on religious activities. The penalties can range anywhere from lengthy prison sentences, massive fines, and confiscation of property, to denial of official registration rights. On May 12 of this year, Uzbekistan tightened its Criminal Code, making participation in an unregistered religious group a criminal offense, punishable by a fine equivalent to fifty times the minimum monthly wage or imprisonment of up to three years. Mr. Speaker, these actions indicate that the policies of the Government of Uzbekistan toward religious groups are not moving in the right direction. In fact, these initiatives are in direct violation to Uzbekistan's OSCE commitments, including Article 16.3 of the Vienna Concluding Document which states that “the State will grant upon their request to communities of believers, practicing or prepared to practice their faith within the constitutional framework of their States, recognition of the status provided for them in the respective countries.” In the Copenhagen Concluding Document of 1990 Article 9.1, Uzbekistan has committed to “reaffirm that everyone will have the right to freedom of expression including the right to communication. This right will include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Uzbekistan's current course of strangling all forms of religious discourse is a flagrant, deliberate, and unrelenting violation of these principles. Last year Congress overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom Act of 1998 which reaffirmed the United States' commitment to supporting religious freedom abroad through U.S. foreign policy. Considering the litany of violations affecting religious liberty and the ongoing persecution of believers, it is time for Congress to consider our aid programs to Uzbekistan, including our military cooperation programs which cost about 33 million dollars in this year alone. Congress should also reconsider our trade relationship with Uzbekistan and scrutinize other programs such as Cooperative Threat Reduction where we can leverage our influence to help protect religious liberty and human rights.

  • Developments in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, today marks the expiration of the term of office of authoritarian Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka under the 1994 Belarusian Constitution. To nobody's surprise, Mr. Lukashenka is not abandoning his office, having extended his term of office until 2001 using the vehicle of an illegitimate 1996 constitutional referendum.   Since Lukashenka was elected five years ago, Belarus has witnessed nothing but backsliding in the realm of human rights and democracy and a deterioration of the economic situation. The Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. At the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 constitutional referendum, when he disbanded the Supreme Soviet and created a new legislature subordinate to his rule.   Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. Political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Helsinki Commission, which I Chair, has extensively monitored and reported on the sad situation in Belarus, and has attempted to encourage positive change in that country through direct contacts with Belarusian officials, as well as through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in St. Petersburg earlier this month overwhelmingly supported a resolution encouraging democratic change in Belarus, including the conduct of free and fair elections next year.   As Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE PA, I urged my fellow parliamentarians to join me in calling for the release of ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir and the guarantee of free access to the media by opposition groups. In addition, I joined 125 delegates representing 37 of the 54 participating States in signing a statement which offered more harsh criticism of the political situation in Belarus, condemned the use of violence against Supreme Soviet members and representatives of the democratic opposition, and protested their detention.   Within the last few days, there appears to be some glimmer of hope in the gloomy Belarusian predicament. According to a July 17 joint statement by the OSCE PA ad hoc Working Group on Belarus and the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Belarus: “The Belarusian President states his commitment to the holding of free, fair and recognizable parliamentary elections in Belarus next year, as well as his support for a national dialogue on elections to be held between the government and the opposition.” I agree with the Working Group and AMG's emphasis on the importance of “access to electronic media for all participants in the negotiations, and a political climate free of fear and politically motivated prosecution.” Mr. Speaker, while I welcome this statement, I remain guarded, given Mr. Lukashenka's track record. I very much look forward to its implementation by the Belarusian Government, which could be a positive step in reducing Belarus' isolation from the international community and the beginnings of a reversal in the human rights situation in that country.

  • OSCE PA Delegation Trip Report

    Mr. President, I take this opportunity to provide a report to my colleagues on the successful congressional delegate trip last week to St. Petersburg, Russia, to participate in the Eighth Annual Parliamentary Assembly Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the OSCE PA. As Co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I headed the Senate delegation in coordination with the Commission Chairman, Congressman Chris Smith. THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY This year's congressional delegation of 17 members was the largest representation by any country at the proceedings and was welcomed as a demonstration of continued U.S. commitment to security in Europe. Approximately 300 parliamentarians from 52 OSCE participating states took part in this year's meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. My objectives in St. Petersburg were to advance American interests in a region of vital security and economic importance to the United States; to elevate the issues of crime and corruption among the 54 OSCE countries; to develop new linkages for my home state of Colorado; and to identify concrete ways to help American businesses. CRIME AND CORRUPTION The three General Committees focused on a central theme: "Common Security and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century." I served on the Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment Committee which took up the issue of corruption and its impact on business and the rule of law. I sponsored two amendments that highlighted the importance of combating corruption and organized crime, offering concrete proposals for the establishment of high-level inter-agency mechanisms to fight corruption in each of the OSCE participating states. My amendments also called for the convening of a ministerial meeting to promote cooperation among these states to combat corruption and organized crime. My anti-corruption amendment was based on the premise that corruption has a negative impact on foreign investment, on human rights, on democracy building and on the rule of law. Any investor nation should have the right to expect anti-corruption practices in those countries in which they seek to invest. Significant progress has been made with the ratification of the new OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Under the OECD Convention, companies from the leading exporting nations will have to comply with certain ethical standards in their business dealings with foreign public officials. And, last July, the OSCE and the OECD held a joint conference to assess ways to combat corruption and organized crime within the OSCE region. I believe we must build on this initiative, and offered my amendment to urge the convening of a ministerial meeting with the goal of making specific recommendations to the member states about steps which can be taken to eliminate this primary threat to economic stability and security and major obstacle to U.S. businesses seeking to invest and operate abroad. My anti-crime amendment was intended to address the negative impact that crime has on our countries and our citizens. Violent crime, international crime, organized crime and drug trafficking all undermine the rule of law, a healthy business climate and democracy building. This amendment was based on my personal experiences as one of the only members of the United States Senate with a law enforcement background and on congressional testimony that we are witnessing an increase in the incidence of international crime, and we are seeing a type of crime which our countries have not dealt with before. During the opening Plenary Session on July 6, we heard from the Governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Yakolev, about how the use of drugs is on the rise in Russia and how more needs to be done to help our youth. On July 7, I had the opportunity to visit the Russian Police Training Academy at St. Petersburg University and met with General Victor Salnikov, the Chief of the University. I was impressed with the General's accomplishments and how many senior Russian officials are graduates of the university, including the Prime Minister, governors, and members of the Duma. General Salnikov and I discussed the OSCE's work on crime and drugs, and he urged us to act. The General stressed that this affects all of civilized society and all countries must do everything they can to reduce drug trafficking and crime. After committee consideration and adoption of my amendments, I was approached by Senator Jerry Grafstein from Canada who indicated how important it was to elevate the issues of crime and corruption in the OSCE framework. I look forward to working with Senator Grafstein and other parliamentarians on these important issues at future multilateral meetings. CULTURAL LINKAGES WITH COLORADO St. Petersburg is rich in culture and educational resources. This grand city is home to 1,270 public, private and educational libraries; 181 museums of art, nature, history and culture; 106 theaters; 52 palaces; and 417 cultural organizations. Our delegation visit provided an excellent opportunity to explore linkages between some of these resources with the many museums and performing arts centers in Colorado. On Thursday, July 8, I met with Tatyana Kuzmina, the Executive Director for the St. Petersburg Association for International Cooperation, and Natalia Koltomova, Senior Development Officer for the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg. We learned that museums and the orchestras have exchanges in New York, Michigan and California. Ms. Kuzmina was enthusiastic about exploring cultural exchanges with Denver and other communities in Colorado. I look toward to following up with her, the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, and leaders in the Colorado fine arts community to help make such cultural exchanges a reality. As proof that the world is getting smaller all the time, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a group of 20 Coloradans on tour. In fact, there were so many from Grand Junction alone, we could have held a Town Meeting right there in St. Petersburg! In our conversations, it was clear we shared the same impressions of the significant potential that that city has to offer in future linkages with Colorado. I ask unanimous consent that a list of the Coloradans whom I met be printed in the Record following my remarks. HELPING AMERICAN BUSINESSES In the last Congress, I introduced the International Anti-Corruption Act of 1997 (S. 1200) which would tie U.S. foreign aid to how conducive foreign countries are to American businesses and investment. As I prepare to reintroduce this bill in the 106th Congress and to work on combating crime and corruption within the OSCE framework, I participated in a meeting of U.S. business representatives on Friday, July 9, convened by the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Denver. We were joined by my colleagues, Senator Kay Baily Hutchison, Senator George Voinovich and my fellow Coloradan, Congressman Tom Tancredo. We heard first-hand about the challenges of doing business in Russia from representatives of U.S. companies, including Lockheed Martin Astronautics, PepsiCo, the Gillette Company, Coudert Brothers, and Colliers HIB St. Petersburg. Some issues, such as export licensing, counterfeiting and corruption are being addressed in the Senate. But, many issues these companies face are integral to the Russian business culture, such as taxation, the devaluation of the ruble, and lack of infrastructure. My colleagues and I will be following up on ways to assist U.S. businesses and investment abroad. In addition, on Wednesday, July 7, I participated in a meeting at the St. Petersburg Investment Center. The main focus of the meeting was the presentation of a replica of Fort Ross in California, the first Russian outpost in the United States, to the Acting U.S. Consul General on behalf of the Governor of California. We heard from Anatoly Razdoglin and Valentin Makarov of the St. Petersburg Administration; Slava Bychkov, American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, St. Petersburg Chapter; Valentin Mishanov, Russian State Marine Archive; and Vitaly Dozenko, Marine Academy. The discussion ranged from U.S. investment in St. Petersburg and the many redevelopment projects which are planned or underway in the city. CRIME AND DRUGS As I mentioned, on Wednesday, July 7, I toured the Russia Police Training Academy at St. Petersburg University and met with General Victor Salnikov, the Chief of the University. This facility is the largest organization in Russia which prepares law enforcement officers and is the largest law institute in the country. The University has 35,000 students and 5,000 instructors. Among the law enforcement candidates, approximately 30 percent are women. The Police Training Academy has close contacts with a number of countries, including the U.S., France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Finland, Israel and others. Areas of cooperation include police training, counterfeiting, computer crimes, and programs to combat drug trafficking. I was informed that the Academy did not have a formal working relationship with the National Institute of Justice, the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Justice which operates an extensive international information-sharing program. I intend to call for this bilateral linkage to facilitate collaboration and the exchange of information, research, and publications, which will benefit law enforcement in both countries that fight crime and drugs. U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS In addition to the discussions in the plenary sessions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, we had the opportunity to raise issues of importance in a special bilateral meeting between the U.S. and Russia delegations on Thursday morning, July 8. Members of our delegation raised issues including anti-Semitism in the Duma, developments in Kosovo, the case of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, the assassination of Russian Parliamentarian Galina Starovoitova, and the trafficking of women and children. As the author of the Senate Resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the Duma (S. Con. Res. 19), I took the opportunity of this bilateral session to let the Russian delegation, including the Speaker of the State Duma, know how seriously we in the United States feel about the importance of having a governmental policy against anti-Semitism. We also stressed that anti-Semitic remarks by their Duma members are intolerable. I look forward to working with Senator HELMS to move S. Con. Res. 19 through the Foreign Relations Committee to underscore the strong message we delivered to the Russians in St. Petersburg. We had the opportunity to discuss the prevalence of anti-Semitism and the difficulties which minority religious organizations face in Russia at a gathering of approximately 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious leaders and business representatives, hosted by the U.S. Delegation on Friday, July 9. We heard about the restrictions placed on religious freedoms and how helpful many American non-profit organizations are in supporting the NGO's efforts. I am pleased to report that the U.S. Delegation had a significant and positive impact in advancing U.S. interests during the Eighth OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in St. Petersburg. To provide my colleagues with additional information, I ask unanimous consent that my formal report to Majority Leader Lott be printed in the Record following my remarks. Exhibit No. 1 Coloradans in St. Petersburg, Russia Iva Allen, Grand Junction. Kay Coulson, Grand Junction. Inez Dodson, Grand Junction. Isabel Downing, Grand Junction. Terry Eakle, Greeley. Betty Elliott, Grand Junction. Dorothy Evans, Grand Junction. Kay Hamilton, Grand Junction. Helen Kauffman, Grand Junction. Nancy Koos, Denver. Dick and Jay McElroy, Grand Junction. Lyla Michaels, Glenwood Springs. Carol Mitchell, Grand Junction. Neal and Sonya Morris, Grand Junction. Pat Oates, Grand Junction. Kawna Safford, Grand Junction. Phyllis Safford , Grand Junction. Dorothy Smith, Grand Junction. Irene Stark, Montrose.   Exhibit No. 2 COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE Washington, DC July 14, 1999 Hon. TRENT LOTT Majority Leader United States Senate Washington, DC Dear Senator Lott: I am pleased to report to you on the work of the bipartisan congressional delegation which I co-chaired that participated in the Eighth Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), hosted by the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council and the State Duma, in St. Petersburg, July 6-10, 1999. Other participants from the United States Senate were Senator Hutchison of Texas and Senator Voinovich. We were joined by 14 Members of the House: Rep. Smith, Rep. Hoyer, Rep. Sabo, Rep. Kaptur, Rep. Cardin, Rep. Sawyer, Rep. Slaughter, Rep. Stearns, Rep. Tanner, Rep. Danner, Rep. Hastings of Florida, Rep. Salmon, Rep. Cooksey, and Rep. Tancredo. The combined U.S. delegation of 17, the largest representation by any country in St. Petersburg was welcomed by others as a demonstration of the continued commitment of the United States, and the U.S. Congress, to Europe. This year's Assembly brought together nearly 300 parliamentarians from 52 OSCE participating States. Seven countries, including the Russian Federation, were represented at the level of Speaker of Parliament or President of the Senate. The Assembly continued to recognize the democratically elected parliament of Belarus which President Lukashenka dissolved following his illegal power grab in 1996. The inaugural ceremony included a welcoming address by the Speaker of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznev, and the Governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Yakovlev. The President of the Assembly, Ms. Helle Degn of Denmark, presided. The theme for the St. Petersburg Assembly was “Common Security and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” Foreign Minister Knut Vollenback of Norway addressed the Assembly in his capacity of OSCE Chairman-in-Office to report on the organization's activities, particularly those relating to post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction in Kosovo. Vollenbaek urged the Parliamentary Assembly and its members to play an active role in promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Kosovo. Considerable attention was given to the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe throughout the discussions on Kosovo. Members of the U.S. delegation actively participated in a special plenary session on Kosovo and contributed to a draft resolution concerning the situation in Kosovo. The delegation was successful in securing adoption of several amendments; underscoring the legal obligation of State to cooperate with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; granting access to all prisoners by the International Committee on the Red Cross; extending humanitarian assistance to other parts of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; and supporting democracy in Serbia and Montenegro. Senator Voinovich introduced a separate resolution stressing the urgent need to support infrastructure projects which would benefit neighboring countries in the Balkans region. This resolution was widely supported and adopted unanimously. Work in the Assembly's three General Committee: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, focused on the central theme: “Common Security and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” During discussion in the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, the U.S. pressed for greater transparency with respect to OSCE activities in Vienna, urging that meetings of the Permanent Council be open to the public and media. Considerable discussion focused on the Assembly's long-standing recommendation to modify the consensus rule that governs all decisions taken by the OSCE. During the closing session Rep. Hastings was unanimously elected committee Vice Chairman. Members offered several amendments to the draft resolution considered by the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment. Two amendments that I sponsored focused on the importance of combating corruption and organized crime, offering concrete proposals for the establishment of high-level inter-agency corruption-fighting mechanisms in each of the OSCE participating States as well as the convening of a ministerial meeting to promote cooperation among these States to combat corruption and organized crime. Other amendments offered by the delegation, and adopted, highlighted the importance of reform of the agricultural sector, bolstering food security in the context of sustainable development, and regulation of capital and labor markets by multilateral organizations. The Rapporteur's report for the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions focused on the improvement of the human rights situation in the newly independent states. Amendments proposed by the U.S. delegation, and adopted by the Assembly, stressed the need for participating States to fully implement their commitments to prevent discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and condemned statements by parliamentarians of OSCE participating States promoting or supporting racial or ethnic hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Other U.S. amendments that were adopted advocated the establishment of permanent Central Election Commissions in emerging democracies and emphasized the need for the Governments of the OSCE participating States to act to ensure that refugees and displaced persons have the right to return to their homes and to regain their property or receive compensation. Two major U.S. initiatives in St. Petersburg were Chairman Smith's resolution on the trafficking of women and children for the sex trade and Rep. Slaughter's memorial resolution on the assassination of Galina Starovoitova, a Russian parliamentarian and an outspoken advocate of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Russia who was murdered late last year. The trafficking resolution appeals to participating States to create legal and enforcement mechanisms to punish traffickers while protecting the rights of the trafficking victims. The resolution on the assassination called on the Russian Government to use every appropriate avenue to bring Galina Starovoitova's murders to justice. Both items received overwhelming support and were included in the St. Petersburg Declaration adopted during the closing plenary. An ambitious series of bilateral meetings were held between Members of the U.S. delegation and representatives from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Turkey, France, Romania, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenian, Canada, and the United Kingdom. While in St. Petersburg, the delegation met with Aleksandr Nikitin, a former Soviet navy captain being prosecuted for his investigative work exposing nuclear storage problems and resulting radioactive contamination in the area around Murmansk. In addition, the delegation hosted a reception for representatives of non-governmental organizations and U.S. businesses active in the Russian Federation. Elections for officers of the Assembly were held during the final plenary. As. Helle Degn of Denmark was re-elected President. Mr. Bill Graham of Canada was elected Treasurer. Four of the Assembly's nine Vice-Presidents were elected: Mr. Claude Estier (France), Mr. Bruce George (U.K.), Mr. Ihor Ostach (Ukraine), and Mr. Tiit Kabin (Estonia). Rep Hoyer's current term as Vice-President runs through 2001. Enclosed is a copy of the St. Petersburg Declaration adopted by participants at the Assembly's closing session. Finally, the Standing Committee agreed that the Ninth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held next July in Bucharest, Romania. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S., Co-Chairman

  • The Sex Trade: Trafficking of Women and Children in Europe and the United States

    This Commission examined an escalating human rights problem in the OSCE region: the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern-day slavery. When a woman or child is trafficked or sexually exploited by force, fraud, or coercion for commercial gain, she is denied the most basic human rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous international human rights agreements. Although trafficking has been a problem for many years in Asian countries, it was not until the end of communism in East-Central Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union that a sex trade in the OSCE region began to develop. The hearing looked into the U.S. and the global response to this appalling human challenge and what else could be done to address it.

  • The Long Road Home – Struggling For Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe

    In this hearing, presided over by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the focus was on property restitution. Discussed by Smith, Campbell, other legislators, and witnesses – Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe; Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad; Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio; Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia; Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada; and, Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group” – at issue was ill treatment and discrimination of religious communities. Smith stated, “Ill treatment afforded some religious communities suggests that religious inequality and discrimination are often at the heart of a government’s restitution policies rather than economic constraints or other legitimate issues that need to be worked through.” Likewise, Campbell stated, “Property restitution and compensation are not favors these newly free countries do for those who fled for their lives. They are essential steps forward in their own economic and political development.”

  • Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets in East Central Europe and the NIS: Problems and Perspectives

    This briefing, led by Chief of Staff Dorothy Douglas Taft, was prompted by the book Nations in Transit 1998, a study and analysis of 25 post-Communist countries which supported the monitoring of the region’s adherence to the Helsinki Accords. Questions included in the report were organized in the categories of political processes, civil society, independent media, the rule of law, governance and pubic administration, macro-economic policy, micro-economic policy, and privatization. The witnesses - Adrian Karatnycky, Professor Alexander Motyl, and E. Wayne Merry - discussed the document and interpreted some of the political and economic trends in the region. They expanded upon some of the insights provided in the book and analyzed the region’s progress, reflecting on their own experiences working with the Soviet Union.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • Legal Status of Religious Groups in the US (1999)

    The United States does not require religious groups to register with the government in order to organize, meet, collect funds, or claim federal tax-exempt status. Such a registration requirement would violate a core freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. This overview identifies the underpinnings of this freedom, including a discussion of the United States Constitution's religion and speech clauses. Following this discussion, the issues of association, legal status and tax exemption are addressed. Foundational to civil liberties inthe United States is the principle that government was created by and exists at the will of the people. Governmental power is a limited power conferred to the government by the people. In the United States, the fundamental rights of the individual are paramount and they may only be abrogated by the government under very limited and defined circumstances. Freedom of religion is a fundamental,  natural, and absolute right, deeply rooted in the American constitutional system. Available to all, citizen and non-citizen, the free exercise of religion includes the tight to believe and profess whatever religious belief one desires. Government officials may not compel any person to affirm a religious belief or punish the expression of religious doctrine deemed by officials to be false. The individual's freedom of conscience embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. This fundamental right was established by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the first of the original Bill of Rights. Specifically, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids the government to make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. While originally an inhibition to action by the United States Congress only, the First Amendment has been made applicable to the individual state governments, as well, through the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.The First Amendment guarantees that the government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion, or otherwise act in a way which establishes a state religion. This constitutional constraint on the government's ability to enact legislation regarding religion has two primary aspects. First, the government is prevented fromenacting a law that requires citizens to accept a particular religious belief. Second, this constitutional provision safeguards the free exercise of each person.'s chosen for of religion. These two interrelated concepts are known, respectively, as the "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses. A Russian translation of the text is available here.

  • The Milosevic Regime Versus Serbian Democracy and Balkan Stability

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Chris Smith, then Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was held on the fiftieth anniversary of Human Rights Day, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris by 56 members of the United Nations. Regarding the atrocities of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime, then, this hearing’s date was perfectly apropos. The storied crimes by the Milosevic Regime are world renowned. The hearing was held in the wake of actions by the regime taken against Serbia’s independent media. Earlier on, Milosevic refused to acknowledge the results of municipal elections in Serbia, and, of course, the violent conflicts that the regime was culpable for.  

  • The Ombudsman in the OSCE: An American Perspective

    This briefing assessed the role of ombudsmen institutions in the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from an American perspective. The ombudsman institution was described as a flexible institution; adaptable to national and local government structures in a wide variety of countries, and a brief evaluation of the evolution of this institution was presented. Dean M. Gottehrer, a consultant on ombudsmen in human rights institutions for the United Nations Development Program, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, and the United States Information Agency, presented a personal analysis of the role of ombudsmen institutions in protecting human rights in OSCE participating states.

  • The Status of Human Rights in Russia

    This briefing addressed the recent changes in the Russian government and what they might portend for human Rights in Russia. Specifically, economic troubles that led to the emergence of extremist politics and subsequent human rights abuses were the main topic of discussion. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch; Mark Levin, Executive Director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; and Lauren Homer, President of Law and Liberty Trust – evaluated the status of human rights abuse in Russia resulting from a mix of repression, corruption, inertia, and neglect. Freedom of speech, freedom of information, and freedom of religion were especially emphasized as aspects of human rights that Russia needs to improve in the future

  • The Current Situation in Croatia

    This briefing addressed the political situation in Croatia in the context of impending elections for offices at the municipal and county levels, as well as for seats in the Chamber of Counties of the Croatian Sabor, that would be an important step in the process of reintegrating Easter Slavonia. Some issues that had been noted during past election monitoring operations, such as problems with the development of the independent media, a lack of transparency in the electoral system, and a tendency for decisions to favor the ruling party, were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Jonas Rolett of the National Democratic Institute; Vesna Pusic, a professor for the University of Zagreb; Milbert Shin of Human Rights Watch; and Nenad Porges, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Croatian Embassy – evaluated the opportunity for improvement in the elections, and the role that nongovernmental organizations like NDI and Human Rights Watch would play in this process. Several tactics for improving the electoral process in Croatia, including strengthening political parties and providing neutral, accessible information, were topics of discussion.

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